There was this really lovely book that I read by Canadian author Margaret Buffie. It wasn’t Angels Turn Their Backs, which, you know, I enjoyed also, particularly because it was about an agoraphobic teenager who didn’t ever leave the house, which allowed me to justify spending a couple of weeks in my apartment without leaving except to buy food and go to classes by saying, “Well at least I’m not as crazy as that character in Angels Turn Their Backs. I mean, she had some issues. She was afraid to go outside. I’m just too lazy.”
The really lovely Buffie book I’m thinking about was Who is Frances Rain? It was about this girl who found a pair of glasses, and whenever she put them on she could see the past happening through the lenses. Through them, she would watch all of the ghosts who lived on this island in Manitoba act out these things that happened in recent history. It was pretty awesome. And basically, the main character was able to use the stuff that she saw through the glasses to reconcile the past with the present, bring her family together again, learn a lesson, etc. etc. blah blah blah.
So when I picked up The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith and flipped open the dust jacket I was ridiculously excited to see the following: “Sixteen-year-old Jack gets drunk and is in the wrong place at the wrong time. He is kidnapped. He escapes, narrowly. The only person he tells is his best friend, Conner. When they arrive in London as planned for summer break, a stranger hands Jack a pair of glasses. Through the lenses, he sees another world called Marbury.” My small brain instantly went, “Oh my god it’s Who is Frances Rain? the sequel but with a male protagonist and a different author! Buy it now!”
I read the first seventy pages at night. Then I slept with all of the lights on. And then, the next morning, wrecked from not sleeping at all because I basically had the covers over my head all night and couldn’t breathe through them, I went to Starbucks so I could be all brave among people and finish the rest of it. I mean, by the end of the book I didn’t even want to hold the front cover with my hand. I was just thinking, “This is really kind of ridiculously terrifying and I now know the horror that it holds which is totally seeping through the cover and into my hands through this graphic design of a pair of glasses that some artist has rendered out of the content and oh dear god do you think that is really what those glasses look like? The ones that send Jack to Marbury? Because really, he should’ve known shit was going down. If someone handed me a pair of glasses like that I would be like, ‘No, thank you, I’m definitely going to pass.’”
The Marbury Lens is really young adult horror at its finest, in that, it’s actually terrifying. There is something seriously scary going on. It’s not just the horrific world of Marbury that Smith creates, but it’s also protagonist Jack’s desire to continue to travel there, to leave the real world behind where things are grey and lifeless and maybe a little bit boring and throw himself headfirst into the violence and war of the fantasy world of Marbury. And then there’s Jack’s own experience of horror in the real world, something all too real and vivid, that drives him towards an otherworldly violence that seems safer and more controlled. Smith’s focus on violence and horror lends a maturity to the novel, but he gives credit to his reader by supplementing mature content with a maturity of style. His short, terse sentences create a physicality that underlines the physical violence depicted in the novel.
The really great thing about young adult horror is that the teens who are reading it can totally just stay up late at home and be scared shitless and still be like, “Yeah, well, I guess my Mom’s downstairs in the living room or whatever so it’s not like I’m alone and so even though this was pretty terrifying, there’s still a whole lot of normal reality going on around me.” They don’t have to head to a Starbucks to find some company and be like, “Oh my god! Noisy, busy place with a bunch of people all around! Makes me feel like this isn’t real!” Smith really writes something awesomely scary. More than that, he writes it well. And if you want some horror, some unbelievably good writing, a fantasy world, and a pair of glasses, The Marbury Lens is going to deliver all of that in a pretty gory, exciting, and violent package. And I guess also if you were standing around thinking, “Oh, you know that lovely Margaret Buffie book that I read when I was twelve or something? I’m thinking I could really go for something like that. I really dug that thing about the glasses,” then this might totally do it for you.